By Paul Gable
A sometimes heated public input session at last week’s DRC (Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation) board meeting highlighted the agency’s confusion about its status and the responsibility it has to the public.
The DRC likes to tout itself as a private corporation and some of its recent moves, such as secretly purchasing properties in the Superblock until outed by local media, speak to that attitude.
However, South Carolina law is clear that the DRC is a public body and, as such, owes the citizens full transparency of its actions.
The DRC was created by Myrtle Beach city ordinance and is funded from the parking fees collected from meters and lots on city property. The city set up a $10 million line of credit from a local bank for the DRC to purchase properties. Money to pay back draws on this line of credit comes from the parking fee revenues.
Among those entities defined as a public body subject to the S.C. Freedom of Information statute are “any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds․” S.C.Code Ann. § 30–4–20(a).
In a July 17, 2013 decision (DiSabato v South Carolina Association of School Administrators), the S. C. Supreme Court held, “When a block of public funds is diverted en masse from a public body to a related organization, or when the related organization undertakes the management of the expenditure of public funds, the only way that the public can determine with specificity how those funds were spent is through access to the records and affairs of the organization receiving and spending the funds.”
The parking fees, themselves, are a problem. They appear to violate deed restrictions included when Myrtle Beach Farms transferred company owned land to the city along the oceanfront.
This violation not only applies to parking areas charging fees along the Golden Mile, but also to the many areas in the south end of the city where parking fees have been charged for a number of years.
One of the deed restrictions states, “…property shall not be used for commercial purposes by any person, private corporation, municipal corporation or agency of government.”
If parking fees are collected, the revenue is dedicated to the DRC and the DRC uses this revenue to purchase property, how can the collection of the fees not be considered “for commercial purposes?”
Another troubling item is the land purchased, with a city established line of credit and repaid with parking fees established by city ordinance, is titled to the DRC. Why is this land not titled to the City of Myrtle Beach, without whose credit and public revenue the transactions would not exist?
Additionally, the land purchases by the DRC with city public funds was kept a big secret. Neither the city nor the DRC was transparent in this process until forced to when outed by local media. Such actions appear to violate the above quoted state law and court decision.
Then, there is the question of eminent domain hanging over several of the properties in the Superblock. Several times, the owners and other citizens have asked city council to rescind the eminent domain motion passed by council in February 2017.
The motion stated, “Motion M2017-33 to authorize the City Manager and City Attorney to take the necessary legal actions to acquire properties located at 505 9th Avenue North (Tax Map #1810707016) and 801 North Kings Highway (Tax Map #1810707020), by the use of eminent domain. Such properties are to be used for public purposes, including but not limited to parks, plazas, museums and libraries.”
There is apparently no plan, at present, of what to do in the Superblock despite the library/children’s museum plan ushered out last spring.
The request to rescind the eminent domain motion was again made at the DRC board meeting last week to City Manager John Pederson, a member of the DRC board. Despite many denials and various other linguistic gymnastics, Pederson avoided directly answering the request.
New Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune pledged total transparency to the citizens and repeated that pledge during the DRC board meeting. Bethune also asked for respectful discussion on issues in the city.
She must remember, respect goes both ways and city council, city staff and DRC board members have often been disrespectful to citizens whose property and lives they have toyed with.
One way for Bethune to help achieve respect is to demand that the DRC move out of its backroom discussions and be totally honest with the citizens about its intentions for redeveloping the Superblock and other downtown areas, as well as be totally transparent in all its activities as required by state law.
Better yet, rather than just rescinding the potential use of eminent domain, which Bethune must immediately take before city council if she is to gain credibility with the citizens, she should move to rescind the ordinance establishing the DRC and put this damaged organization to rest.